“My neighbor is a teacher so he likes kids, I could ask him to be on our board – I bet he would do it!”
How many times have we heard something like this when we want to expand our board? All too often, a lack of processes and time leads to a board full of people who believe in the cause, but just aren’t the right fit for our organization. Once they are on the board, we task them with all kinds of things that they don’t have the tools to accomplish, and then we’re upset that our goals go unmet.
Proper board development is an ongoing cycle that ensures we have the right board members, with the right tools to be successful. There are four steps to be taken both while recruiting board members, and four steps to engaging them as competent and effective board members.
The first step to effective board recruitment is knowing what you need to complement your existing board and meet your organizational goals. The Board Governance Committee, along with staff, should take time to identify how many new board members should be brought on, and what the profile of new prospects should look like. Use an analysis tool that is specific and appropriate to your organization, and then share the desired profile with your board and staff. Create a prospect list of ideas of people who have some of the qualities identified in the desired profile.
Once you have identified the needs, the next step is to cultivate the prospects. You might invite them to an event or tour, or simply begin introducing them to the organization by sharing social media or newsletters. Another cultivation step might be to invite them to serve on one of your committees so you can begin to know their volunteer style.
As you get to know your prospects, you then need to recruit their service. Those who have shown interest during the cultivation phase can now be recruited to join the board. The recruitment stage is when you can share your expectation policy and ask them to complete an application form.
Once you have completed the “get to know you phase,” it’s time to formally nominate them to the board. It is important that the board has ample time to review their profile, and best practice is to bring all new members on at one time throughout the year – preferably prior to the start of each fiscal year.
This second half of board development is essential not just for your new board members, but to ensure that all of your board is continually being provided with the right tools and information to be effective in their work. As one of my favorite board members once told me: “Staff are in it up to their eyeballs and beyond, but the board is only involved at ankle level. You have to educate and repeat.”
Educating your board means not only sharing program information and important dates, but also sharing industry trends, peer organization metrics, and newsworthy milestones for the constituency you are serving. Education is not just about your organization, but about how your organization fits in your community and your industry.
Beyond simple education is deliberate training in areas that board members have identified as necessary to do their job. Board gatherings should include regular training that includes tools for doing the work they are being tasked to accomplish. Staff can help arrange and guide the training, but the board should be engaged in identifying which training opportunities would be most helpful to them.
Evaluation is another key component of board development. If we haven’t taken the time to execute regular evaluation of the board, we have no actual data to measure board engagement or effectiveness. There are many tools available for board self-evaluation, and when members have the opportunity to think about their performance as it relates to the roles and responsibilities of nonprofit board members, we can gather the information we need to improve.
The best part about deliberate processes for Board Recruitment and Onboarding is enjoying your success! As you reach the end of your fiscal year, take time to recognize your outgoing board members by celebrating the organization’s achievements during their service, and encourage their continued engagement with your organization once they have completed their service.
While it may take time and resources to set up, deliberate board recruitment and onboarding that are executed following inclusive processes on a regular timeline will set up your organization for long-term success. And, just as importantly, it leads to engaged and fulfilled volunteers who become lifelong advocates for your work.